Ann Arbor Neuropsychology: Exercise and Brain Health

Doctors continually tell patients how important exercise is for physical health and disease prevention. Research tells us exercising decreases the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. But did you know exercise also improves mental health? Physical exercise can treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and even dementia. Experts continue to analyze the connections between exercise and how it improves memory and thinking skills.

Did you know that as you age your brain actually shrinks in size? After the age of 20 all the way until age 90, the brain loses 5% to 10% of its mass. Also, as we age, blood flow in the brain reduces as our arteries narrow. Good news is studies show regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart pumping, increases blood flow to the brain, and increases brain mass in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that helps with verbal learning and memory. Exercise can help prevent physical disease, help our mental health and even positively affect our memory and thinking!

Unfortunately, in recent years, inactivity has become more common, tasks and jobs that used to require physical activity are now made instantaneous by new technology. Americans are sitting more and moving their bodies less. With anxiety and depression on the rise, exercise and physical movement is more important than ever. It is common for people to want to start exercising but are not sure where to begin. Below are some ways to kickstart exercise in your life to help prevent physical and mental disease and even improve your memory and thinking skills.


Tips on how to start exercising today:

Go on a walk with a friend: if you struggle to create exercise as a habit, having someone help hold you accountable is a great tool and can make exercising more enjoyable.

Find an exercise group: if you want to get into the community to exercise, many towns and cities have exercise meetup groups. If your friends and family don’t like to exercise with other people, or you are new to an area, try an exercise group where you can move with other people who want to start exercising too.

Start small: If exercising for 30-45 minutes a day is daunting, start by moving your body for 5 minutes every day. The next week move your body for 10 minutes. Keep increasing by 5 minutes every week and before you know it you will be exercising for 30-45 minutes a day. This gradual increase of movement can be a great way to normalize exercise when it seems impossible to start.

Find exercise that you enjoy: If doing sprints, or taking long runs is not something you enjoy, then find another form of exercise that you want to do. Some activities to try are rock climbing, yoga, cycling or biking, dance exercise classes, or swimming. Finding exercise activities that bring us joy and remind us of what it was like to play as a kid can be a sustainable way to keep exercising.

If you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety, depression, or just needs someone to speak with, our expertly trained therapist could be of help with therapy. Memory and organization are your struggles? We have an Executive Function Coaching program that can help! Feel free to contact our office to get more information.